“Who Cooked the Last Supper?”

Perhaps we can decide to be changed—so that gratitude, justice, and grace become the primary tastes that we share at our everyday meals.

“Who cooked the Last Supper?”

This question caught my attention when I saw it as the title of a a 2001 book by Rosalind Miles—Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women’s History of the World.

The best bite of food I have ever had

I am reminded of a dining experience I had while attending a liturgical conference in Montreal almost a decade ago. Some friends and I visited a local restaurant where I encountered the best, most memorable, most delightful, most enchanting bite of food—just one forkful—I have ever tasted.

I have told the story of that one bite of food countless times—often while sitting a table somewhere eating with friends. That one taste has forever marked my tastebuds. Maybe even changed them. I wish I could taste that bite one more time.

Tastes that change us

Other tastes also linger in my memory. This morning as I write, I am remembering pieces of frozen chocolate pound cake that graced my dinner table for many weeks after my grandma sent them home with me when I was a pastor in Virginia. My goodness, I wish I had a piece of Grandma’s cake to eat with my coffee right now!

Lunches at Mrs. Alderman’s house come to mind too. Mrs. Alderman was a member of my Virginia church, and she loved to cook for others. Lunch was the big meal of the day for her, and she often invited me to share it with her. She and I sat at her table, just the two of us, and feasted on two kinds of meat, three vegetables, sweet iced tea, cornbread made in cast iron, and warm apple pie. And she always sent me home with a sack of leftovers. So did Beulah when I ate with her. And Katie.

And I can’t remember those good church folk without also remembering Donna at the Redwood Restaurant. She and the other cooks and servers at the Redwood nourished me with food and kindness and conversation almost every day that I lived in Lexington, Virginia.

Today is Maundy Thursday. Many people in Christian communities recall on Maundy Thursday the last meal Jesus had with his friends before he was killed. I wonder what those disciples remembered about that meal in the days, months, and years that followed. The foods they shared at that table. The tastes that clung to their tastebuds. The aromas that stayed in their nostrils. I wonder how that meal changed them.

What I haven’t given much thought to when sharing communion on Maundy Thursday is the question Rosalind Miles asks in her book title: Who cooked the Last Supper?

Blending together the Gospel stories of Jesus’ final days, we learn that someone provided a donkey for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem and that a woman in Bethany anointed him with expensive perfume. On this Maundy Thursday, I find myself wondering about the person or people who provided that final meal. Baked the bread. Prepared the recipes. Stirred up the aromas. Served the food.

Today’s towel-bearers

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing us. Our communities—our world—will not be the same now that we have experienced this viral threat together. We aren’t even aware yet of all the ways we are being and will be changed.

What I hope on this Maundy Thursday is that one of those changes will mean we hold and show more gratitude for some unsung and unnoticed heroes in our communities. They are out there right now. Heroes who didn’t choose the cloak and who don’t think of themselves as having super powers. People who are doing what they do every day, who are doing what they have been doing to make a living, to serve the public through often thankless jobs—and in doing so, to care for the well-being of all of us.

As we read the old, old story of how Jesus took up a towel at that last meal and washed his disciples’ feet, I hope we remember those in our communities who are taking up towels of many kinds to see us through this historic crisis.

A colleague of mine in Raleigh, Pastor Tim, writes about this in a blog post titled, “Scrubs, Pajamas, Aprons, and Towels.” Today’s towels, he says, are masks and latex gloves, hospital scrubs, restaurant aprons—all of the objects and accompanying actions that people are wearing and embodying to keep us going through these days.

The work these people are doing is sacramental work—revealing to us the presence of God-with-us. They are holding our lives in their hands. Keeping vigil at bedsides in our stead. Delivering nourishment to our homes. Teaching and counseling and offering words of care to our children.

A sad truth is that we too often overlook many of these folks. Underpay them. Vent our anger on them.

A new commandment

On this Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus, one who fed hungry people and washed weary feet and touched lepers and ate with folks no one else wanted to eat with. We give thanks for one who showed us how to love, how to heal, how to redeem a wounded and hurting world.

Perhaps as we remember Jesus, we can also take a moment to remember the people in our communities who are showing us day by day—no, who are offering us through their own lives and bodies—the face and hands and feet of Jesus.

And perhaps we can decide to be changed—so that gratitude, justice, and grace become the primary tastes that we share at our everyday meals. Jesus’ own words at the holy meal invite us to this conversion of our hearts, minds, and actions:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

For We Who Are Alone Together on Holy Wednesday

I pray that I—that we—find courage and boldness both to speak these prayers and embody actions that fulfill them in the name of Jesus who journeys with us Holy Week roads.

Today is Holy Wednesday. The middle of a week. The middle of Christianity’s Holy Week. The middle of unrelenting messiness in our towns and cities—in our world. 

Holy Wednesday is called Spy Wednesday in some parts of the Christian tradition because the day remembers Judas Iscariot’s despairing plans to betray Jesus. The betrayal is financial. Political. Spiritual. Personal. 

The story of the betrayal makes me uncomfortable in all sorts of ways. Our world was and is already messy with betrayals of many kinds, and now our days are engulfed by a multidimensional betrayal called COVID-19 that threatens our collective existence, reveals yet again fault lines in our human institutions, and defies clear cut explanations and responses. 

And yet—

The Gospel story calls us to hold steady in faith even when faced with fear and uncertainty. The arc of Holy Week is toward hope. In that hope, I pray that we come to terms with what it means to be in community with each other. I pray that God renews our understanding and our aliveness as people of faith. I pray for peace and healing across our world. And I pray that I—that we—find courage and boldness both to speak these prayers and embody actions that fulfill them in the name of Jesus who journeys with us Holy Week roads.

For We Who Are Alone Together

I sit alone together with the whip-poor-wills, watching
sunsetting shadows sneak across the front porch

where a bold squirrel has left her supper crumbs to
taunt my tiny terrier when she bounds out

the front door for tomorrow’s morning walk—alone
together with our neighbor’s eggshell poodle who answers

to Rainbow (why did I never follow up on my promise 
to learn the neighbor’s name?) and presses

her furry body to the ground in timid joy 
when she sees us, even if we are a street-crossing 

distant from her. I hear a trumpet—or is it a trombone—
muted but clear down the street—or is it next door?

Hard to tell in these days of i-recorded Taps rising 
like virtual incense up over the dust to which

we all shall one day return alone together. I walk 
down the street as the ancient dogwood, whose 

pink-tipped blossoms are unfurling one more time
like a thousand miniature Easter flags, keeps watch 

by the front yard gate. The horn sounds clearer but
deeper—a trombone, for sure. Not Taps, then, bugling 

alone that another day is done. Jazz, perhaps? Rising 
up to caress unlit stars as though they are Aladdin 

lamps hiding unspent wishes? A door to the neighboring 
church is cracked open, a tomb unsealed: hark

the herald vibrates from unseen lips 
as an owl in the loblolly pine responds—